Author(s)Lee Gatiss
Date 26 February 2018

“And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God” (Luke 24:50-53)

Where is Jesus now?
Jesus is not still here with us on earth, to prove his resurrection, or to continue teaching us himself. After his resurrection he eventually ascended into heaven.

This appears to be a little “science fiction” to some. And it seems difficult to believe in the age of space travel! But the point was not to show us the literal location of heaven, beyond the atmosphere. So what was it all about? Well, he ascended U.P.  F.O.R.  U.S.

Universal authority
The ascension demonstrates Christ’s universal authority. The apostle Peter says that Jesus, “has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him” (1 Peter 3:22). So Jesus has ascended back to his Father’s right hand, a position of power and majesty. As Paul also writes, God “seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:20-23).

Jesus “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” He did that for us. But after this, “God has highly exalted him” (Philippians 2:8-9), which is also for the benefit of his people, his church. Our Lord Jesus is exalted to the highest place of power and authority in the universe. From all eternity he enjoyed pre-eminence, but he gave it all up to become a man and to die on the cross. But now, in the ascension, he again takes up that supreme position.

Perfect salvation is accomplished
Having been sent by God the Father Almighty, he now returns from his mission to the right hand of God the Father Almighty (notice that this line in the Creed echoes the first).

The ascension marks the end of Jesus’s physical earthly presence. His body is now located elsewhere. We are not told to expect any more surprise appearances of the Lord. Except, that is, one final return, when he comes to judge the living and the dead. Until then, his work on earth is done. He has accomplished what he came to do – to live the perfect life that we could never live and die the death that we all deserve. Our salvation is assured – Jesus has done everything necessary to save us. The way between humanity and God is open again.

Or as Hebrews puts it, “he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him.”  Why? Because “he always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). Such a high priest meets our need – one who is holy, innocent, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Because he is exalted, he can save us completely.

Forgiveness is assured
The ascension isn’t just something that happened to Jesus twenty centuries ago. It has very real and present implications for us. Because of the ascension, our forgiveness is assured. Hebrews 1:3 says, “after he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” His work was done, so he sat down. And since the purification of our sins has been provided for and Jesus is on the throne, we’re told in Hebrews 4:16 to “draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Our own ascension
The ascension of Christ guarantees our own ascension to heaven. In Ephesians 1 we hear about how Jesus has been appointed as head over everything for the benefit of the church. But in chapter 2, Paul continues by saying that God “raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6). So if we are “in Christ” by believing in him, we have not only been raised to spiritual life with Jesus, we have also ascended with Jesus too.

Just as Jesus’ resurrection from the dead assures us of our own resurrection from the dead, so his ascension also assures us of our ascension into heaven. It’s so certain, Paul says we are already seated with Christ in the heavenly realms.

Ruling through his word
King Jesus rules his people from his throne in heaven. As Paul tells us, “When Christ ascended on high, he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” And what were those gifts? He gave “the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12).

In other words, the ascended Christ gave us his word to rule us, and pastor-teachers to apply that word. So the sceptre by which our high king rules is his word, the Bible — the writings of the apostles and prophets faithfully proclaimed and applied to us by evangelists and pastors.

Unlimited Evangelism
As he ascended, Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. God therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-20). Acts also records Jesus saying to his disciples, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight” (Acts 1:8-9).

In other words, because of the ascension we must spread the gospel throughout the whole world.  The ascended Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth, and we are to declare that authority by preaching the gospel and making people into disciples of Christ. Not just a few people, but all nations. His authority is universal so our evangelism is unlimited.

Spirit sent by Jesus
Finally, the ascension is for our benefit because it enables the coming of the Holy Spirit. This is what Jesus said in John 16:7: “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.”

So Jesus leaves the earth and ascends into heaven, there to be seated at the right hand of God the Father. And once he is there, the Father gives him the authority to send the Holy Spirit. When he, the Helper, comes, he comes to fill us and to empower us, to fix our eyes on Jesus the founder and perfecter of our faith, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).

Questions for reflection:
1. Why is it significant that Jesus is seated in heaven?
2. What is Jesus doing now?
3. What would you say to someone who said they had seen Jesus on earth?

Prayer: Almighty God, whose Son Jesus Christ is now seated with you far above all rule and authority and power and dominion: grant that in our hearts and minds we may also ascend there and dwell continually with our perfect saviour, who has sent his Holy Spirit to empower us to spread your word throughout the world. In his exalted name we pray. Amen.

To explore the ascension further, you may enjoy this article from our journal Churchman.